Without math, STEM wouldn’t work as the familiar acronym it’s become, but more importantly, the subjects of science, technology, and engineering just wouldn’t be possible.
This is why the teaching of solid math skills remains a pressing priority for educators and parents. But despite a growing push for STEM education and career development, American students typically lag behind other countries when it comes to math skills and performance.
Part of the problem could be the way math is conventionally taught and how students are encouraged to tackle difficult math problems and distinct math concepts.
While some students excel, many cannot compete with their international peers or grasp the concepts that will make them competitive professionals. The need for change has led to new teaching approaches that address student engagement as much as curriculum completion.
There are also ways of fostering math skills outside of the classroom. This can be done through all types of STEM programs, competitions, and camps, which help students apply mathematical concepts to more exciting and impactful endeavors.
There are also local, state, and national competitions that make math skill development as thrilling as any athletic tournament. Some of the longest-running and most famous are the MATHCOUNTS Mathletes competitions.
What Is MATHCOUNTS?
MATHCOUNTS is a national program that runs math challenges, competitions, and clubs, while also providing a range of mathematics skill resources for middle school students.
The term Mathlete is used to describe these participating students. Mathletes have been competing through MATHCOUNTS programs since 1984—after the foundation was started by the National Society of Professional Engineers, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and CNA insurance in 1983.
Over almost 40 years, it has grown to be the most recognized middle school math competition program.
During these challenges, teams and individual Mathletes come together from all over the country. Mathlete competitors have the option to represent their schools or participate as non-school competitors.
Over the course of four rounds, students face off against and alongside their peers to solve a series of increasingly difficult math problems within a limited amount of time.
Overall, the program is similar to spelling bees and youth robot competitions in the way it provides students with opportunities to make friends and showcase skills—and often in a way that’s more engaging than an ordinary math test. Over the years, MATHCOUNTS has broadened its programs and the available methods for students to participate.
This includes the National Math Club, which gives students of all skill levels more options for engaging in mathematic learning activities, including through games and the exploration of fun math problems. The Math Video Challenge has also grown in popularity.
Through this program, students are given a math challenge that they must solve through a creative video. Like the MATHCOUNTS competition, students can progress to win special prizes and honors.
Are Math Challenges The Solution To Low STEM Scores?
MATHCOUNTS follows in the tradition of other mathematic competitions, including the International Mathematic Olympiad, the American Mathematics Contest, and the American Invitational Mathematics Examination.
The lasting popularity of these and other competitions could provide useful lessons for educators who are working to encourage better math engagement.
According to reports from educators who have changed their approach, courses that put math in the context of real-world problem solving or that add gamification elements have led to higher levels of achievement.
Teaching math concepts through practical exercises and adding motivation with competitive elements could help students engage more intuitively and retain what they learn.
Considering that conventional approaches have only led to a lag in international STEM proficiency, it may be worthwhile to use mathletics programs and challenges—which have fostered motivation and skill growth over decades—as a good teaching guide and a path to achievement.